Local Politics

Wake commissioners elect vice chair after controversial chairman vote

Posted December 8, 2009 6:55 p.m. EST
Updated December 9, 2009 5:47 p.m. EST

— The Wake County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday elected Betty Lou Ward as vice chairwoman after denying her request for a re-vote for chairman.

Ward, a Democrat, and Republican Tony Gurley were deadlocked 3-3 in the race for chairman during a Monday meeting, with the vote split along party lines for several hours – the board meeting lasted past 2 a.m. Tuesday.

A seventh board member, Harold Webb, wasn't at the meeting because he is recovering from a stroke he suffered in October.

Gurley was eventually elected chairman when Republicans called for another vote after Ward left the meeting to go to the restroom. Officials considered her departure an unexcused break and continued to conduct business without her.

Ward on Wednesday called the vote "outrageous," but she wasn't able to convince other board members to hold another vote for chairman.

"I've been on this board 21 years, and I've never seen anything like that happen before," she said. "(It's) a matter of disrespecting someone. I think it's unfortunate."

She threatened legal action against the county but conceded after County Attorney Scott Warren said Gurley's election was legitimate. Warren said a re-vote was impossible since Gurley had already taken action as chairman.

"The bottom line is, this really makes us all look pretty stupid," Ward said.

Gurley defended his election on Wednesday.

"She left without permission. The attorney confirmed that," he said. "You've got to keep voting, and so we had no option other than to keep voting."

The vote for vice chairman was equally divisive Wednesday morning, with a 3-3 split along party lines between nominees Ward and Republican Paul Coble. Webb joined the meeting by phone and cast the deciding vote in favor of Ward.

The board went through 129 votes between Monday and Wednesday before settling its new leadership structure.

Gurley said he's looking forward to his leadership role and working with recently elected school board members who have vowed to dissolve the existing student assignment system, which tries to balance socio-economic diversity across the district, in favor of neighborhood schools and less busing.

"I'm in complete support of the policies they campaigned on and they were elected on," he said.